By John Thomas Tuft

Brady walked down the path, watching her feet make the steps instead of watching where she was going. Which is how she managed to walk smack into a tree and raise a goose egg on her forehead. She did not care because she had Uncle Paul with her, a bedraggled and well-loved stuffed monkey with gangly arms and a goofy smile below button eyes. Well, she did care a little because it hurt but Uncle Paul gave it a quick kiss and they continued on their way to the railroad tracks. Momma always said not to play near the tracks but the pull was just too strong: putting a hand on the steel rails and waiting for that faint tremble, then peering up the tracks for that first glimpse of the engine headlight coming out of the tunnel a mile away and steaming toward where she and Uncle Paul waited. Because the engineer always waved to them. A friendly, cheery wave and a smile as the beast swooped past in a roar.

While she waited for the glorious spectacle, she sat down underneath the cool November sun and opened the canvas shoulder bag that held her treasures. Brady pulled out a small sack and dug inside it, lifting out a wad of monkey bread. “Uncle Paul, would you like some?” Now who among us can resist the sweet savory cinnamon goodness of biscuit dough dipped in melted butter, rolled in sugar and cinnamon and stacked in a bundt cake pan…with love, no less? I know, right! And Uncle Paul was no exception. Brady’s momma made the special treat every fall when the harvest was in and the family hog was slaughtered for meat, smoked for the winter months. As the two munched on this goodness and held time in their hands, Brady wondered if the light of the old steam locomotive could shine the way beyond her wildest dreams. Because that is what children and the Uncle Pauls of this world wonder about. Or have you forgotten?

Lost in her reverie, Brady almost missed the long, mournful moan of the engine clearing the tunnel, sounding the whistle to alert all nearby. She jumped up and, in her haste, did not pay attention to what she was doing as she stuffed Uncle Paul into the shoulder bag and ran toward the tracks, much closer than she should stand. As the train bore down, she tripped and sprawled in a heap, the contents of the bag spilling across the tracks. Before she could recover, the train was upon her and thundered by just feet from where she tried to regain her footing. She missed the face of the engineer, his smile and cheery wave. The ground beneath her shook as though a mighty iron dragon had awakened from its spell and breathed hot wind down on her, there beside the tracks.

Finally, the train was gone, and Brady scrambled to gather her treasures. But, to her horror and dismay, Uncle Paul was nowhere to be found. She looked along both sides of the railroad rails, calling his name, searching in the weeds and bushes. But no stuffed monkey poked his head up, with the button eyes over a goofy smile. Heartbroken, Brady collected what was left of her shattered world, and made the long, crestfallen journey home. Once there she poured out her heart to Momma, conveniently leaving out the part about being too near the tracks. Instead she told her Momma that Uncle Paul had grabbed the monkey bread from her and danced away, teasing her with it, and in his foolishness, stepped too near to the train. And now he was gone.

Momma brushed the tears from her cheeks, and knowing little girls as she did, hugged her close. Because little girls should not see the fear in their Momma’s eyes at the things that their children do in the name of imagination. At long last Brady fell asleep. Momma called her brother in Omaha, and said, “Paul, Brady lost that monkey that you sent her while playing down near the railroad tracks. Her heart is broken. I told her she’s not allowed to play there, but she doesn’t listen.” Her brother tried to reassure her that Brady, like her mother, would grow up to be a fine woman, full of love and fire. Unconvinced, Momma hung up, wondering what magic can cure the broken heart of a little girl.

Thanksgiving day arrived. While Momma was busy cooking, Brady snuck out and walked to the railway tracks even though she was not supposed to go on such adventures. She sat, full of sadness, holding a packet of monkey bread, but not eating it. The train whistle sounded in the distance. But instead of thundering on by, it slowed. There was the engineer, waving to her, and remarkably, calling her name! She stood up and walked closer. He held something up and with a  smile, tossed it to her. There at her feet, staring up with button eyes over a goofy smile, lay Uncle Paul, none the worse for wear. Before she could offer thanksgiving for this wondrous monkey miracle, the train was gone…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.